‘Culture and Meaning’ (Critical Essay)

‘We are the generation of the Internet’.

This statement is often thrown around by many of us, and is undoubtedly evident in our reliance on social media, especially in regards to communicating with one another. But what actually defines a medium this flexible, infinite, and influential? Furthermore, how many of us are truly Network literate?

The Internet

‘A vast computer network linking smaller computer networks worldwide (usually preceded by the). The Internet includes commercial, educational, governmental, and other networks, all of which use the same set of communications protocols’

I’d like to take a minute to break this definition down.

Firstly, let’s look at the word ‘computer’. This statement is by all means accurate, however the Internet nowadays operates via multiple technologies such as tablets and particularly, phones. Therefore, the initial definition of the term ‘vast’ is dramatically emphasized in this modern context to accommodate for what is essentially a global phenomenon (some even claiming that the number of mobile phones will exceed the world’s population as of this year).

Secondly, let’s look at the word ‘network’.

What defines a network?

To me a network is a web of interconnected components that communicate with each other and operate under a specific code or set of conventions; ‘all of which use the same set of communication protocols’.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the point that I would like to discuss in detail.

If you type into google “The internet” your top results are: “Is coming”, “Is a playground”, “Is an archive” (1.). What does this say about how we regard such mediums?

Firstly, as I was typing the word ‘google’, my computer automatically corrected me to the proper noun ‘Google’. Such a simple concept has become such a major part of our lives, it has warranted this specific title. This leads me to my first question: Is the internet becoming more personal or impersonal?

Regarding social media, one might argue that the internet has revolutionized the way we both present ourselves and communicate. We can essentially completely personalize our Facebook profiles, while Instagram allows us the perfect opportunity to illustrate a carefully orchestrated persona to the world. Twitter feeds provide us with the ideal platform to promptly share our latest thoughts about political upheaval, the latest celebrity gossip or our newest retail purchase, while Messenger is a quick and effective way to chat to friends. However, with all this amazing technology at out fingertips, are these communication tools doing more bad than good? Gitleman states in one of his articles that the concept of media and media reception is essentially based upon ‘the ways that people experience meaning, how they perceive the world and communicate with each other, and how they distinguish the past and identify culture.’ (2008 p. 1)

Culture itself has played an undeniably massive role in the way we operate both in life and online. However, this emphasis on the way we receive and interpret meaning has perhaps over ridden a sense of propriety and respect in terms of the way we utilize media sites. Many of us are completely focused on the number or likes we receive on a photo or status (we take this to mean something about us and our place In society) rather than concerning ourselves with the content of the post even if it may be inappropriate or compromising, as our culture deems this acceptable.

So, it may be fair to argue that we are indeed all operating based on a code of conventions typical of a standard network, however, the rules relate to our own cultural network as opposed to the rules of the medium we are using.

Moreover, just because the cultural norm deems we act in a certain manner both in life and on the internet, is this necessarily the best way for us to behave?


Duncan J. Watts makes a rather bold, yet I think undeniably accurate statement in  ‘Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age’ claiming that ‘the power system is arguably the most essential technological feature of the modern world’ (2003 p. 20).

Although he meant this literally in terms of electricity, which absolutely revolutionized the concept of the modern lifestyle, there are two more abstract angles I would like to explore regarding this statement. Firstly Watts refers to the power system, which, if I am not mistaken, is another word for (or similar concept to) a network. The fact he included this word in his statement suggests that the success of any energy source or eco system is based on how efficiently each component operates under certain rules and ultimately fulfils its purpose.

Therefore, in regards to a societal network or hierarchal ‘power system’, each of us will operate based on a certain code of conventions that stem from the most primal aspect of the human psyche; Survival.

Where am I going with this you may be asking? Well, I think many media platforms, and particularly the internet, provide the perfect backdrop for the establishment and maintenance of such social systems or networks. Furthermore, this modus operandi has an enormous effect on the way we use and utilise these media platforms. The majority of our energies are not used communicating as such, but rather maintaining an elaborate online persona in the hope that we will appear ‘cool’ in a society that deems this to be ‘the be all and end all’.

I am not in anyway saying the internet does not allow us awesome opportunities to inspire, learn, create and build relationships. There are many people out there who are absolutely utilizing our access to media platforms by creating awesome sites that aim to send a positive message and unite people (such as the famous photographic website, Humans of New York (2.)) However, I think for most of us, our perception of social media and way we conduct ourselves has become warped, feeding a need for external validation and even laziness, rather than causing us to focus solely on an effective means of communication.

Men do not call on their love interest when courting like they did in the old days, but rather send a snap chat or poke on Facebook.

And we wonder why chivalry is supposedly dead!

I was sitting in a café the other day scrolling through my news feed on my phone (ironically enough) when I noticed the couple sitting next to me. The two had exchanged barely two words the whole time they had been sitting there, instead emailing or messaging on their phones.

Andrew Murphy and John Potts pose some incredibly relevant questions in ‘Culture and Technology’: ‘How do technologies from the printing press to the internet function culturally? How do they affect the manner in which we think about ourselves and the world?…Do they bring new cultural possibilities into being?’ (2003, p.2) Many theorists and scholars have studied multiple aspects of media and technology, from technological determinism to hauntology. However, I am here to argue, that technology is man made and therefore, is influenced by culture and cultural customs. Everything we create serves a purpose as evident in the famous proverb; ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Moreover, the way we use these technologies is going to be influenced by these same ideas and concepts.

I recently watched a really thought provoking film that probably explains what I am getting at much better than I will:

This is not to say that media technology is necessarily having a negative influence on the way we communicate with and respond to each other. The internet has undoubtedly revolutionised the way we communicate, express, learn and even operate on a daily basis. However, I think it is important we be mindful of the way we as people within a certain culture are using social media and perhaps even reassess the cultural values we are all promoting both in our lives and online. It almost seems like the more developed communication technology becomes, the less developed our communication skills become. However, this being said, the internet along with all social media sites provide the ideal opportunity for us to create a positive and effective network of communication and mutual respect, if we only take the time to acknowledge our part in the process, and truly achieve network literacy, not only technologically, but and socially and culturally.



(1.) Interestingly enough, I was originally going to insert a screenshot of the google search engine displaying these results. However, google does not reference it’s creators on the Google website. When attempting to cite this particular image I was unable to find the specific people relevant to the creation of this web browser/page. It is interesting to note that a search engine as influential and widely used as Google has become a faceless tool, rather than a more personal, people oriented means of operation.

(2.) An awesome sight created by photographer American photographer and blogger Brandon Stanton that aims to share and convey the stories of random people on the streets of New York and all around the world.


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